Conversation with Jon Feinstein
Jon Feinstein: While many photographers are in a race to be as “contemporary” as possible, often dramatically adjusting their style over short periods of time, you’ve maintained a particular style that incorporates fashion, narrative and tableaux and seems to effectively not care about following trends in the photographic community. That said, who/ what do you see as having the most profound influence on your work?
Sarah Wilmer: To make photographs that feel right to me is the main thing. Following trends wouldn’t work and I rarely look to the photographic community for inspiration. If I do look, I get depressed. I am inspired and influenced by feelings, ideas, mystery, situations, people, the future and nature.
JF: Many of the people in your photographs are not actors–they are common people/ inhabitants in faraway towns that one might traditionally expect to be “documented” instead of fitting into a constructed narrative. How do the people in your photos connect or relate to your own constructions/ narratives or the fantasies you are exploring? Do their own experiences in any way inform the pictures you make?
SW: Yes, of course, I want to be respectful to the people I am working with. What I might ask of a 22year old musician in New York City would be very different from what I’d ask of a 70year old man in a tiny fishing village in Iceland, but still what you see is a result of direction and suggestion. Different people require different approaches but it’s always about making a connection and getting somewhere together. I try to make the picture making process interesting, exciting and rewarding for everyone involved.
JF: You integrate your commercial and personal work with little distinction on your website, something that many young photographers today might avoid. To me this speaks to a seamlessness in your process–everything is related, every facet bears equal significance to you. Do you agree? Can you talk a bit about this?
SW: Like that recent show at MOMA where everyone was showing their commercial work mixed with their personal work and they called it ‘New Photography’? I don’t think the distinction is important. The scale and support of the projects can be different but ultimately there is an image. You make a plan, you go out there, shoot, come home, edit, retouch and then you either just put the pictures away, or show your friends or you deliver them to someone. Sometimes you get paid.
JF: You include a mass of work on your website that at times is daunting and overwhelming (some projects with over 100 photos) but does not necessarily feel unedited. With so many professors, bloggers etc encouraging young photographers to edit the hell out of their work, to cut and pare down as much as possible, how do you see this wealth of work playing into how it’s read?
SW: The current edit on my website is only about a third of the work I initially intended to include. I like sharing my pictures and I make a lot of them. I thought that my website could be the one place where I could share many bodies of work. The people who want to spend time to go through and look can, and the people who want to just hop around and get a quick idea can. My dear friend and mentor, Chris Buck, has been brutally helping me rethink that approach though and I am currently in the process of cutting a lot of the images and retooling the site a bit, to make it more manageable. The official launch of the website is this fall and at that time none of the sections will contain over 100 images and everything will turn into a hologram in your face.